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Access Assured: Restoring Progressivity in the Tax and Spending Programs for Higher Education

63 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2008 Last revised: 27 Oct 2008

Kerry A. Ryan

Saint Louis University School of Law


Presently, the federal government subsidizes the higher education expenses of individual college students through two distribution channels: the tax system and the transfer system. Under each subsystem, there are a multitude of programs available to assist students in meeting their postsecondary educational expenses. The proliferation of so many forms of federal student aid raises issues of intra- and inter-program effectiveness. In their current form, the tax benefits for higher education do not get the right amount to the right people at the right time. The federal college spending programs, on the other hand, get the right amount to the right people but do so in the wrong manner. The intersection of these two financial aid distribution channels amplifies their individual deficiencies. The resulting complex web of overlapping, contradictory, and partially or completely uncoordinated tax and spending programs impedes the government's ability to achieve its public policy goal in providing federal student aid, namely, to expand access to college for low income students for whom cost remains a barrier. This Article argues that significant equity, efficiency, and simplicity gains can be realized by consolidating substantially similar college tax programs and by increasing their coordination with traditional, transfer-based forms of student financial assistance.

Keywords: tax, tax policy, taxation, education, education policy, college, higher education, postsecondary education, college aid, financial aid, student financial aid, college savings plan, college tax credit, federal methodology, Higher Education Act

JEL Classification: D6, H2, H52, I2, K34

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Kerry A., Access Assured: Restoring Progressivity in the Tax and Spending Programs for Higher Education. Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2008; Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-03. Available at SSRN:

Kerry A. Ryan (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University School of Law ( email )

100 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
United States
3149777237 (Phone)
3149773332 (Fax)


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